Pop quiz, hotshot: Name four members of the cabinet. Having trouble? Feeling a little uninformed? If it helps at all, almost every American can’t name four. Politicians, presidential candidates, they should. They can.
Question number two: Name me four world leaders. Probably, you thought of Yeltsin, Clinton, Barak or Arafat, maybe Blair or Chirac. Most Americans definitely would have failed that question too. Politicians, presidential candidates should, though. They can.
Last question: Name me …say… leaders of countries recently in the news, such as Taiwan, Pakistan, India and Chechnya. I’d be impressed if you even got one (Teng-hui, Pervez Musharraf, Vajpayee and Maskhadov), but I assume that politicians should. They should get four. They can. Oh wait, not all of them.
That’s right, our beloved Republican presidential runaway, George W. Bush, made another classic “oopsy.” He couldn’t name the leaders of any of the four countries mentioned above. Actually, he got one half. He remembered that Teng-hui’s first name is “Lee.”
For some reason, that does not surprise me. Maybe it’s because he called Kosovars Kosovoians and Greeks Grecians. His mistakes certainly have caused some indignation from the press, but people don’t seem to care. Nor should they.
He’s governor of Texas. He knows only people he needs to know. As President Clinton explained, he’ll know all these names and more than is necessary soon enough if he becomes President. This is not the problem with W’s foreign policy as a presidential candidate. The problem lies in his flawed analysis of recent foreign affairs involving “this guy” or “General…general” (that’s what he called Musharraf, the leader of the military coup in Pakistan).
When asked about the recent coup in Pakistan, he said that it could be good for the country. He felt that this extralegal and anti-democratic move by the Pakistani army would be “good news for the subcontinent.” This view is one of the most potentially damaging visions for U.S. foreign policy.
During the Cold War, the United States followed a vision of the world similar to that espoused by Bush. The U.S. government repeatedly supported military takeovers in order to stem the growth of communist governments. We overlooked egregious human rights violations and corruption and focused solely on the appearance of stability in the form of any non-communist government. This stability has, in the post-Cold War era, faltered and failed and has led to the chaos in areas such as Iran, Congo and Sierra Leone. This focus on short-term stability has already proven a dangerous mistake in foreign affairs and Bush wants to revive it.
We’ve all heard time and time again that foreign policy initiatives in the post Cold War era must be different. We’ve heard it so much because it is true. There is no evil empire superpower to fight for philosophical dominance over the world; there is no national security need for stability over democracy. The main objective of American foreign policy should no longer be stability but rather the promotion of self-rule and democracy, such as the recent vote in East Timor.
George Bush also shows a naÃ¯vetÃ© towards the concept of a military coup. Military coups do not normally, as he hopes for, create a stable government. What Bush also fails to recognize is the tremulous past of Pakistan: no government has lasted long enough to fully implement anti-corruption efforts and to succeed. By accepting this recent move by the military, Bush has failed to acknowledge the need for patience with the rule for law in order to help countries move towards the liberal democracy we so desire.
Creating a working democracy is hard. It’s a completely new and different form of government to most countries going through this arduous journey. These countries lack the resources, infrastructure and history to easily implement democracy. Even American democracy was far from stable until decades after our independence.
We cannot expect an easier transition for other countries. They need help and patience from the last true global superpower in the form of well-planned and supervised economic aid and political advice. This is no easy task and it will be rife with pitfalls and hardship. However, only by supporting fledgling attempts at democracy can we create a global community committed to freedom and human rights.
Bush’s throwback to Cold War foreign policy may never become a large issue in the presidential election; political history says it probably won’t. However, this could have major effects on society if Bush does not realize the flaws in his views and adapt them to today’s reality, not yesterday’s errors.